Popular Science Monthly/Volume 19/September 1881/Increase and Movement of the Colored Population I

627446Popular Science Monthly Volume 19 September 1881 — Increase and Movement of the Colored Population I1881John Stahl Patterson




THE problem of races in the United States is one of growing interest and of great practical moment; that of the colored race, especially at the present time, is full of significance in its social and political aspects. It is proposed in a couple of articles to inquire briefly into the phenomena of increase and movement of the colored population in the light of the most recent observations and statistics which bear upon the subject. The first table we shall consult is that which gives the increase of the white and of the colored population for each decade from 1790 to 1880:

Year. White. Colored. White
per cent.
per cent.
1st census. 1790 3,172,006 757,208
2nd " 1800 4,306,446 1,002,037 35·8 32·3 1st decade.
3rd " 1810 5,862,073 1,377,808 36·0 37·5 2nd"
4th " 1820 7,862,166 1,771,656 34·1 28·6 3rd"
5th " 1830 10,537,378 2,328,642 34·0 31·5 4th"
6th " 1840 14,195,805 2,873,648 34·7 23·4 5th"
7th " 1850 19,553,068 3,638,808 37·7 26·6 6th"
8th " 1860 26,922,537 4,441,830 37·7 22·1 7th"
9th " 1870 33,589,377 4,880,009 24·8  9·9 8th"
10th " 1880 43,402,408 6,577,497 29·2 34·8 9th"

It will be seen that the ratio of increase in the colored population had fallen off somewhat before emancipation, although the proportion of fugitives was less from 1850 to 1860 than from 1840 to 1850. By the annexation of Texas, 59,000 colored were added to the census of 1850. Florida was first counted in 1830, with 16,000 colored. Louisiana was purchased in 1803, adding about 30,000 colored to the census of 1810. The slave-trade closed in 1808.

The ratio of increase in the white population was less disturbed by the acquisitions of territory and people. Immigration is the very large factor which here swells the ratio of increase, and this more in later decades than in the earlier ones. During the first decade (1790-1800) the number of immigrants was about 43,000; during the second, 60,000; during the third, 98,000; during the fourth, 150,000; during the fifth, 600,000; during the sixth, 1,700,000; during the seventh, 2,500,000; during the eighth, 2,400,000; and, during the ninth, 2,800,000. It should be kept in mind that, in 1870, there were over 10,000,000 whites in the United States whose mothers were of foreign birth, being 30 per cent, of the entire white population. The tide of immigration received a check during the war (1861-'65), and also during the period of commercial depression, 1874-'79. The war, by checking immigration, marriage, and the fruitfulness of marriage, and by the outright destruction of human life, greatly reduced the percentage of increase during the eighth decade. The check which the hard times gave to immigration reduced the percentage of increase for the ninth decade below the figure it would otherwise have reached. But, after making all allowances for the advantages which immigration gives to the white population, it is probable that from 1810 to 1860 the whites multiplied somewhat more rapidly than the colored people.

The ratio of increase of the colored population, though declining, was quite uniform till the decade 1860-'70. Two classes of influences were then vigorously at work to reduce the ratio—a war which largely concerned the colored people, and the transition from the servile to the free condition. The whole decade was an unsettled period, with every influence against the rapid multiplication of the freed race. The rate of increase for that decade was a little less than 10 per cent.—less than half what it had been the previous decade. The percentage of increase for the decade 1870-'80 is quite surprising. As it has taken place under freedom, it contravenes all the prejudices and upsets most of the philosophies. One would naturally have supposed, from the reputed bad treatment and destruction of freedmen in the South and the preordained tendency of an inferior people to decline in presence of a superior, that the colored race would be dying out, instead of increasing at the marvelous rate of 34 per cent, in ten years.

Previous to emancipation, it was a current opinion, not only among slaveholders but among others, that slavery was conservative of the colored race, owing to the interest of masters. It was expected that, with freedom, the colored people would begin to die out like the Indians. This was based on the general doctrine that, when a superior and inferior race occupy the same territory, in free competition, the inferior will go into a decline. That this was a total misconception of the subject, on theoretical principles, it would not now be difficult to show; and, that it was practically wide of the mark, the late census is abundantly sufficient to prove. Still, in the facts known previous to this census, there was much in favor of such a view. In the decades preceding emancipation, the ratio of increase of the free colored was only about half that of the slaves.

Mr. Kennedy, Superintendent of the Census of 1860, believed that freedom was unfavorable to the multiplication of the colored people. He says, "Leaving the issue of the present civil war for time to determine, it should be observed, if large numbers of slaves shall be hereafter emancipated, so many will be transferred from a faster to a slower rate of increase." He held that "the white race is no more favorable to the progress of the African race in its midst than it has been to the perpetuity of the Indians on its borders." He was of opinion that the "developments of the census, to a good degree, explain the slow progress of the free colored population in the Northern States, and indicate, with unerring certainty, the gradual extinction of that people the more rapidly as, whether free or slave, they become diffused among the dominant race."

If these were the views which appeared to be warranted by the showing of the eighth and previous censuses, they were certainly not contravened by anything in the ninth census (1870), but apparently more than confirmed; and there was much to encourage the prevailing notion that after emancipation the colored population would increase less rapidly than before. Up to the very taking of the last census this opinion had taken such hold as to enter as a factor into political calculations. It was expected by leaders of both the great parties that under the new census the South would lose relatively in Congressional representation.

Perhaps the writer may be permitted to state that, about the middle of the last decade (1875-'76), he made a leisurely trip through the South, one object of which was to study this subject. He found no physician in the South, whether native or Northern, but believed that the colored race was in a decline and slowly undergoing the process of extinction. It was believed no doubt the result of a dominating idea which preoccupied the mind that births were fewer and deaths more frequent than formerly under slavery. According to the census of 1870, the colored people died off more rapidly than the white, as well in the South as in the North. The report of deaths, though obviously imperfect, shows that this greater mortality of the colored takes place among the children. It was found that the cemetery records of sextons in the larger towns of the South confirmed this showing of the census. But, for all this, all through the South, there were such swarms of little colored people about the huts, that the writer was constrained to withhold his assent to the notion that the race was dying out, stating at the time that, "notwithstanding the showing of these statistics, we suspect that the greater number of births compensate for the greater number of deaths, and that the next census returns will show little if any diminution of the relative proportion of the negro to the native white population."

It must be mentioned, however, that the showing of the last two censuses is not altogether free from suspicion. It has been thought that either the census of last June made too many colored people, or that of 1870 made too few. Where most in doubt, the last census has been retaken with care, in parts of South Carolina three times in all, and the work first done thus verified as correct. The probability is, that the census of 1880 is as accurate as such work can well be done. The census of 1870 is not so well authenticated, but it was thought at the time to be correct. Whether it failed to enumerate all the colored is a matter of speculation only, which can never be satisfactorily determined. It is now believed in the Census-Office at Washington that all the colored were not enumerated in 1870. Possibly this is the case to a certain extent, but it is just possible that it may not be necessary to suppose error in either of the censuses to account for the great increase during the last decade. The census of 1870 shows that reproduction had been greatly checked in this as in other classes; and it shows this even if we allow a large margin for error. But this state of things rapidly changed, and the colored people of the South began life anew about the year 1870. They were no longer disturbed by the war, nor seriously molested by the lawless elements of the South. They had become comparatively well settled in their new status of freedom. They found something to do, and something that paid, as the successive great cotton-crops of the South show; and that hopefulness in life which followed the period of anxiety contributed an unusual stimulus to reproduction. With more settled habits came marriage and rapidly increasing families. The census of 1870 shows that the proportion of children under ten years of age was nearly one per cent, less among the colored than among the native whites. This is due, no doubt, to the American-born children of immigrants being counted as natives; but it is probable that the census report of 1880 will reverse this showing. Comparison can not be made in earlier reports because the native and foreign whites were not kept distinct.

The following is from an intelligent correspondent of Floyd County, Georgia, to the "Country Gentleman" of July 15, 1880—Mr. J. H. Dent: "So far as I have heard from the census enumerators, they report that the increase of negroes by birth is remarkable. The enumerator of this district told me that in three families he found thirty living children, which surpasses anything of the kind among the whites. I have three negro tenants on my farm, and among them they have fourteen children; and for health, flesh, and vigor, I would compare them with any children at the North or elsewhere." It is probable that the advantage of the colored, in the matter of numbers, comes, not from unusual conservation of the living, but from early marriages under ordinary circumstances, and the rapidity with which children are born in the same family, and also, as the census reports show, from the greater tenacity of life from middle age onward. For these reasons mortality might be absolutely greater among the colored, and they still far outstrip the whites in the multiplication of numbers. But there is nothing in the form of positive evidence to show that, in the rural districts of the South, mortality is any greater among colored than among white children.

The colored increase of the last decade, as shown by the census, does not so far transcend the increase of the early decades of the century as to render it at all incredible; and yet, such are the conditions under which this has taken place, that it is no doubt to a certain extent exceptional, and will not be repeated in the future. It is quite safe to predict that the next decade will not show so large a percentage of increase as the last. No doubt the forthcoming "Census Report" will show a greater proportion than usual of colored children in the South from one to ten or twelve years of age. Reproduction will cease in a considerable percentage of these families before the close of the current decade; and, of those born during the last decade, not a very large proportion will marry before the beginning of the next decade. If this view has truth in it, and there should be no disturbing conditions, the rate of increase among the colored in the South will be greater from 1890 to 1900 than from 1880 to 1890, but not so great as from 1870 to 1880 (theory of Reichenbach; "Report of the Eighth Census," Introduction, viii). But, however this may be, no amount of question concerning the last two censuses, the ninth and tenth, can so far invalidate them, but they show the high probability that both freedom and diffusion in peace are favorable, rather than otherwise, to the multiplication of the colored race. This is so, even allowing a good margin for error in the census of 1870. So far as the census of 1880 covers the ground, it does not afford merely the evidence of negation; it is positive, and not likely ever to be shaken.

The aggregate white population of the sixteen Southern States and the District of Columbia was 9,466,355 in 1870, and 12,577,215 in 1880, the percentage of increase during the decade being 32·9. The aggregate white population of the twenty-two Northern States in 1870 was 23,864,272, and in 1880, 30,257,557, the percentage of increase being 26·8. Then we have for the last decade, increase of whites in the North, 26'8; increase of whites in the South, 32·9; and increase of colored in the United States, 34·8 per cent. It should be observed that the colored people have not so far surpassed the whites of the South in ratio of gain as to give any considerable encouragement to the suspicion of incorrectness in the showing of the census reports. It is as true that the Southern white population has gained slightly from foreign immigration during the decade, but it is also true, as going partly to offset this, that the colored population of the United States has gained slightly from the intermarriage of white women with colored men.

The foreign population in the South is very small compared with that in the North. The foreign-born population in Missouri is (1880) but 1034 per cent, of the native population of the State; in Maryland, 934; in Texas, 734; in Louisiana, 6; while in Mississippi, Alabama, and South Carolina, it is about three fourths of one per cent.; in Georgia, two thirds of one per cent., and in North Carolina but one fourth of one per cent. On the contrary, the foreign-born population bears a large proportion to the native in the Northern States. In Nevada it is 70 per cent.; in Minnesota, 52; in California, 51; in Wisconsin, 4412; in Rhode Island, 39; in Massachusetts, 33; in New York, 3114; in Michigan, 31; in Nebraska, 27; in Connecticut, 2613; in Colorado, 2512; in Illinois, 2312; and so on down to Indiana, the lowest, 734. The aggregate of foreign-born in the Northern States is 5,854,000, while in the Southern States it is only 658,000: that is, 1,011 foreigners out of 10,000 (or a little more than one out of ten) have up to the present time settled in the South. In a comparison of the white gain South and the white gain North during the last decade, the disadvantage which the former has in this element of immigration is without compensation, inasmuch as the migration from South to North is probably about equal to that from North to South, and is comparatively small at any rate. Yet the white gain South was 32·9 per cent., and North but 26·8 per cent. What, then, would be the figures after making proper allowance for the numerical effects of immigration on the population of the two sections? Only approximate results can be had.

The arrival of foreigners during the last decade is counted at 2,813,000. Deducting from this aggregate 60,000 Asiatics as non-prolific, and also other foreigners in the Territories about 65,000 more, there would remain 2,088,000 as the number belonging to the States. But these were not all counted in the census. They were here during an average of nearly five and a half years (the heaviest arrivals having taken place during the earlier years of the decade), and allowance must be made for deaths during this peried. Few children or old persons emigrate. Most are in the prime of life, and the proportion of deaths would probably be allowed for at 1212 per cent. Making this reduction, there would remain 2,352,000 immigrants which were added to the population of the States during the last decade and counted in the census.

But this result may be reached by a different route—by adding the actual gain in our foreign white population during the decade to the loss of the foreign white population which was here at the beginning of the decade. There were 979,000 more white foreigners in the States in 1880 than in 1870. According to the census of 1870, there were 5,438,000 white foreigners in the States. At 2514 per cent, for the mortality of this class in ten years, it lost 1,373,000 during the decade. Adding this to the actual gain of foreign white population, 979,000, we get the number of immigrants during the decade, which were still surviving and counted in the census of 1880. The result is 2,352,000—the same as by the other process. The error in this result must be comparatively inconsiderable.

Then, in order to ascertain the gain of Northern whites and of Southern whites respectively, the numerical disturbance of this foreign element must be got rid of by deducting it from the census figures of 1880; and, to this end, we must know what part of it belongs to the Northern and what to the Southern States. The South during the last decade did not receive its average quota of foreigners. In nine of the Southern States there was a falling off of foreign population amounting to 29,700. Missouri alone lost 11,000. In the other eight there was a gain of 66,000. Texas alone gained 50,000; so that, but for Texas, there would have been a loss of foreign population in the South during the decade. The foreign gain in the South, deducting Chinese, was 35,000; in the North, 944,000. Adding to the first of these numbers the foreign loss in the Southern States during the decade, 157,000, we have 192,000 foreign whites who settled in the South during the decade, and were counted in 1880. By a like process, we find the corresponding number for the Northern States to be 2,160,000. Being enabled thus to eliminate the immigration of the decade, we find the percentage of gain in the white population of the Southern States to be 30·8, and of the Northern States 17·7.

But this calculation does not bring out the relative increase of the native whites North and the native whites South. It includes all the children born of foreign parents who came to this country after the decade commenced; and this is a very considerable item. Of the foreign-born in this country, 23 per cent, are females between the ages of twenty and forty years. Of actual immigrants, it was formerly somewhat less, as it is now probably somewhat more than this. As the immigrants of the decade were here during an average of nearly five and a half years, it would be safe to reckon one living child to each immigrant female between the ages of twenty and forty, deduction having already been made for the mortality of immigrants during the decade. Making this further correction, the ratio of increase for the Northern whites would be 15·7, and for the Southern whites 30·4.

Still we have not reached the relative increase of the native whites North and South. Allowance should be made for the excess of prolificacy of foreign-born mothers who came previous to the beginning of the decade. The foreigners among us have larger families than the natives of the North generally. So large a proportion of immigrants come in the prime of life, that, though the males predominate, foreigners have a larger percentage of increase than natives, even if their families were not larger. While the proportion of foreign-born white females from twenty to forty years of age was (in 1870) 23 per cent, of the entire foreign-born population, the proportion of native white females of corresponding age was not quite 13·8 per cent, of the native white population; but, of course, this great disparity is due in part to the fact that the American-born children of foreigners are counted, not with the foreigners, but with the natives. It is a fact little thought of, that the number of foreign-born white females from twenty to forty years of age is nearly one fourth of all the white females of that age in the United States. In 1870 the number of native white females of this age in the whole country was 3,867,617, and of the foreign 1,260,965, the latter being 24·6 per cent, of the whole. How is it for the Northern States alone?

It is deducible, from the report of 1870, that the foreign-born females in the North, between the ages of twenty and forty years, numbered 1,119,000, while the native-born white females of like age in the same States numbered 2,532,000, the foreign being 30·6 per cent, of the whole. A similar calculation shows that in the South the proportion of foreign-born in the period of motherhood was but 9·6 per cent. Granted an excess of prolificacy in our foreign families over the native, the advantage thereof to the rate of increase accrues wholly to the North. It is not probable that foreigners in this country are any more prolific than, or, indeed, quite as prolific as, the native Southern whites.

On the admission of greater prolificacy in immigrants generally than in Northern natives, the points to be met are so numerous that any arithmetical statement of them would be rather complicated and tedious. We let that pass with the statement of an assured belief that, if proper allowance were made for this element of the problem, the ratio of increase in the native white population of the North would be shown to be very little, if any, above 12 per cent. But we omit this. The comparative rate of increase may then be recapitulated as follows: Native whites North, 15·7 per cent.; whites South, 30·4 per cent.; colored in the United States (allowing 1·5 per cent, for error in census of 1870), 33·3 per cent.

I am aware that the division-line assumed in this statement between the North and South is quite arbitrary, and that where the border States meet there is comparatively little divergence in the characteristics referred to; but some such line had to be assumed to bring out the lesson of this study, and that which has been used probably involves as little disturbance of results as any.

In a comparison of the white and colored increase, the side of color has no offset equivalent to the advantage of immigration for the other side. The only thing in the form of such offset is marrying across the color-line, already referred to. When a white woman marries a colored man, she virtually migrates as a wife and mother, and her children and descendants for ever after count on the colored side. This is taking place to a certain extent—to a very limited extent, it is true; but, as small a matter statistically as it appears to be, the census should put it on record for comparison hereafter. Native children of foreign parentage are designated, and colored children of white mothers should also be designated. The prejudice is at present very strong against such unions; but that prejudice may gradually weaken, and cases of the kind may multiply. This tendency is worthy of note for its significance on the future psychology of the American people. If to the rapid multiplication of the colored population is to be added an accession through white motherhood, the increase of the colored over the white must be accelerated, unless prevented by counteracting influences not at present in existence. And, when in this connection we contemplate the increasingly slow multiplication of the people of highest civilization in our country, the prospect for the future is not an optimistic one.

Very great subjects can only be touched upon, not treated, here. Why is it that the native whites of the North are multiplying so much more slowly, not only than the colored, but even than the Southern whites? Simply because of the possession of greater wealth and culture. It was different early in the century, when the descendants of the Puritans and Dutch stood on a "lower" grade in the struggle of life. Families were larger then. The possession of wealth and education is a surer check on population than the famous "positive checks" of Malthus—"wars, plagues, and famine." They are surer and greater, because they act without intermission. I do not shrink from stating the fact, unpleasant as it may be. I am aware that Knox, Clibborne, Schade, Kapp, and others, refer the slow increase of American natives they do not discriminate between Northern and Southern—to the effects on the European stock of an uncongenial climate. This is an a priori fancy which is entitled to no particular consideration, since it is as wholly without support as that other a priori fancy, that the descendants of Europeans in this country are gradually turning into a sort of red Indians.

There is, perhaps, no law of human history better assured than this: that, with high civilization and the long enjoyment of wealth, culture, and the luxury and dissipation which are sure to accompany them, population increases more slowly, in time to become stationary, and at last decline and succumb to younger and more vigorous peoples, who have been hardened in the conflicts of poverty and rough fare. Roscher, the German economist, states this profound truth: "As a rule, the influences which have accelerated a nation's progress and brought it to the apogee of its social existence end in precipitating its ruin by their further action. Every direction which humanity takes has almost always something of evil in it—is limited in its very nature, and can not stand its extreme consequences. All earthly existence bears in itself, from the first, the germs of its decay." It would not be difficult to point to the springs of human action which must render this necessary, except on the presumption of a revolution in human nature itself, an event not likely to occur.

It is not always the highest that prevail, especially in the conflicts of industry. It is the plodding, the hardy—those who have few wants and can do with little. This is well understood by the industrial classes who have come into conflict with the Chinese in this country and in Australia. And it is plain that a hardy race with moderate wants, which increases twice as fast as a higher race in the same territory, will contribute more and more to the psychological and social status of the whole people. There is nothing surer than that the high-toned Yankee is losing in his relative weight of numbers in this country, and it is equally sure that he will lose more and more, and eventually be absorbed. The German, the Celt, the Southerner, the colored, are all gaining upon him. Some patriotic people deplore the incoming and rapid multiplication of white foreigners in the North; and yet it is this very accession of Caucasian strength that affords the best ground of hope for the psychological elevation of the great American type or types which are yet to take definite form. If only Yankees were contending with the colored for supremacy, it would go far worse with the whites than it now does in the race of numbers. Allowing the increase of the colored to be 3313 per cent, in ten years, they would double four times in less than a century; that is, the census of 1980 would show their numbers to have increased from 6,577,000 to 117,000,000! Taking the increase of the Northern whites to be 15·7, as it is shown to be for the last decade, after eliminating the obvious augmentation due to immigration, their numbers would only double while the colored quadrupled; and the census of 1980 would show that the native whites of the North had increased from 24,403,000 to 105,000,000. That is, the colored race of the United States would then outnumber the descendants of the present native Northern whites by 12,000,000. It is, of course, not to be expected that these ratios of increase would be maintained for that period; both would fall, and both fall, perhaps, in about the same proportion; and this will probably take place, notwithstanding the accession of white mothers to the colored stock and the infusion of foreign blood into the veins of native whites. If these and the colored were the only contestants on American soil, the despised race would make comparatively short work of it, and come to be the prevailing people. As it is, however, with rapid increase of whites at the South, and white immigrants pouring into the country, the problem is a very different one. But it is still true that at last, at however remote a period, the industrious, hardy, plodding, persistent, breeding race is that which will push its way into predominance. What race will be our Macedonian, our barbarian, or our Turk, can not be divined. It may still be in embryo. The conflict of races is now less on the bloody fields of battle than on the peaceful fields of industry, and other than martial traits of character may hereafter determine who shall be the victors. Formerly the conquerors came from without; hereafter they may spring up within.

In the world's history peoples have risen, flourished, and declined. How or even where they came into existence is not always known; but this we do know, that they came into prominence only by complying with the conditions of ethnical consequence. They were hardy, aggressive, and prolific. And there is this paradox, that the greater they became the surer were they to perish. Greek and Roman belong to the irrevocable past; and many who helped supplant them have yielded in turn to others. The Vandals came like a vision into history and then disappeared. The Thracians, a numerous people in the Eastern Empire during the first century, have long since become extinct. The Vallacians, from small beginnings in the eleventh century, forced their way into history and in two or three centuries passed out of sight. The Ottoman Turks, a small nomadic tribe of Mesopotamia—temperate, hardy, warlike, pushing—rapidly grew into a great historical people, and made a place for themselves where Christians and Greeks once held sway; but they have long since entered on the period of their decline, and eventually some more vigorous people will take their place. If we could know the origin of the vast Teuton family, we should, no doubt, be astonished at its then small promise of future greatness. The Slav is pushing his way into consequence, and we can not appoint the limit of his capabilities. It sometimes takes an obscure race but a little while to rise. This we may study even in our own times. What we know as the Celtic Irish were, only two hundred years ago, less than one million strong; now they number many millions and are increasing with great rapidity. They are not afraid of hardships, and their vices are not of the effeminate kinds which undermine the constitution. They are finding homes in many lands, and who can forecast their destiny? We have a still more recent instance in the colored people of the United States. Eighty years ago they numbered only 1,002,000, but with all their drawbacks they are now 6,577,000. With a like increase for the next eighty years, they would be 43,000,000 strong. Even less do we know of what is in store for this race than for almost any other. The situation is unique, and there is little clear history to guide us; while it is far less likely than any of the white varieties to disappear in the universal blending of races on American soil.